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11:22AM

RealClearSports: Tiger Takes on Turnberry

By Art Spander


TURNBERRY, Scotland -- It is a land of history and mystery, of kings and kilts, of whins -- the tall grass -- and whisky. A land where remnants of 700-year-old abbeys stand against time and the words of poet Bobby Burns carry in the wind.

It is the land where golf began, on the sandy soil next to the sea called links, and the land where the game once more returns with the oldest of championships, the British Open, being played for the 138th time.

This is Turnberry, hard by the Firth of Clyde, some 40 miles south of Glasgow, a course twice, during World War I and World War II, turned into a base for the Royal Air Force and now has again been turned into a test for the game's best players.

Along the road is Croy Brae, or The Electric Brae, where because of an optical illusion up looks down and down looks up. On the edge of a course is a lighthouse, built on the alleged birth site of Robert the Bruce, who led the Scots against the English in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

The River Doon flows in Ayr, the city some 18 miles north, and over it, near Burns' heritage museum, crosses the Bridge over the Doon, or Brig O'Doon.

The pros can cross that bridge when they come to it. Now the idea is to get past the bunkers, the huge pits five or six feet deep, and the long rough when play in the Open begins Thursday on Turnberry's Ailsa course..

"Just a fabulous golf course,'' said Tiger Woods. He is a three-time British Open winner, but like so many of the golfers in their early 30s, or younger, never had played even a practice round at Turnberry until this week.

Three Opens have been held here: 1977, won by Tom Watson; 1986, won by Greg Norman; and 1994, won by Nick Price. But 15 years is a long time. Fifteen years ago Tiger was 18 and one of his playing partners for the first two rounds, Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, was 2 years old.

So, in a way, for many in the field Turnberry is uncharted territory, even though they will have noted every swale and sand trap during the previous few days.

"We haven't had the big winds yet,'' said Tiger of how difficult it is to create a playing strategy. "We'll see how the weather holds out.''

Off the coast about 10 miles is Ailsa Craig, a huge rock, an extinct volcano, home to thousands of birds. The saying here is "If ye can't see Ailsa Craig it's raining; if ye can see it, it's going to rain.'' On Tuesday, you saw it, and then you saw storms smash in from the Firth.

Turnberry was renovated the past year, reopened only a month past. Tiger, in a sense, also went through his own renovation, surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee in June 2008.

That kept him out of last year's Open, a fact to which the British media kept referring - hey, at least they didn't ask about Lindbergh flying across the Atlantic - and out of any tournament until February.

Since his return, Tiger has won three times, which he conceded was not something anyone would have predicted, but none of those wins was in a major. He tied for sixth in both the Masters and U.S. Open.

The three who took championships at Turnberry, Watson, Norman and Price -- and a fourth, Jack Nicklaus, whom Watson beat by a single shot in '77 -- all are living members of the World Golf Hall of Fame. The connection was not lost on Tiger.

"You are looking at guys who were some of the best ball strikers,'' said Woods, who has been made the 7-to-4 favorite. "At this course you can understand why. You really have to hit your ball well here. And you have to drive the ball well, hit your irons well. You just can't fake it around this golf course.''

Experience helps on links courses, although because the weather is so changeable sometimes not that much. If you're hitting a driver with the wind because the ball is certain to carry a bunker, what happens when the wind reverses? Do you use a 3-wood or 3-iron and play short?

Tiger won the Open three years ago at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake, and hadn't played the course until the week of the tournament. Back in 1964, Tony Lema, who had never even been on a links course, won at St. Andrews, advising, "I don't build 'em, I play 'em.''

So does Tiger, and he said his introduction to links golf, some 14 years ago when he was at Stanford, was a revelation.

"I just fell in love with being able to use the ground as a friend, as an ally,'' said Tiger of golf on the hard-packed fairways. "We don't get to do that in the States. Everything is up in the air.''

At the moment, so is the winner of the 2009 British Open. Tiger is the choice, but everyone except Robert the Bruce has a chance.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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http://www1.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/07/14/tiger_takes_on_turnberry_96427.html
© RealClearSports 2009
9:15AM

SF Examiner: Tiger anxious for first major win since surgery

By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner

TURNBERRY, SCOTLAND — And now into the land of Robert the Bruce, where castles stand and time seems endless, steps Woods the Tiger. Aye laddie, the British Open returns to Scotland, and Woods, after a missing year, returns to the Open.

“Haste ye back,” says the sign along A77 as it curves out of Kirkoswald toward the Firth of Forth and the links of Turnberry. Tiger is back. And naturally the heavy betting favorite, 7-to-4 at Ladbroke’s the bookmaker.

Every Open Championship, as it’s called here, offers a unique glance at an event which is as much about history as it is competition. Over the hill in Ayr is the actual Brig O’Doon, or bridge over the Doon River. Close by is the home of Bobby Burns, the poet hero who created Auld Lang Syne told us the best laid plans “o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.”

Tiger’s plan for this 138th Open, of course, is to finish first, to follow in the wake of Tom Watson, Greg Norman and Nick Price who won the three previous Opens at Turnberry.

“They were some of the best ball-strikers,” Woods reminded. “At this golf course you can understand why. You really have to hit the ball well here ... you just can’t fake it around this golf course.”

Nor on any links, which is where the Open always is played. Those are the courses on the rolling, sandy soil once under the sea, where the bunkers are huge, the fairways firm, and the advantage is in hitting the ball low, not high.

Those are courses such as Royal Birkdale, where Padraig Harrington won last year, and Carnoustie, where Harrington won in 2007, and Royal Liverpool, where in 2006 Tiger took his third Open.

There are no true linksland venues in the United States — Pebble Beach Golf Links is one in name only, not style — and not until they cross the sea do Americans get the opportunity to play them.

“I fell in love with it right away,” Woods said of links golf. “I fell in love with being [able] to use the ground as a friend, an ally. We don’t get to do that in the United States; everything is up in the air.”

Nor in the U.S. do they compete on a course built where, in 1274, Robert the Bruce was born. He would become King of Scotland and fight the English at the Battle of Bannockburn. Now a lighthouse, Turnberry’s symbol stands at Robert the Bruce’s alleged birth site.

The virtual king of golf is Tiger. But since the knee surgery which prevented him from playing in the ’08 Open, Woods has not won a major. He has three victories since returning five months ago but he couldn’t get to the top in either the Masters or U.S. Open, tying for sixth in both.

“To sit here and say I was going to have three wins halfway through the year probably would have been reaching a little bit,” Woods said. “Granted I haven’t won a major, but I’ve come close. I’ve done it before, and hopefully I’ll do it again.”

The oddsmakers believe he’ll do it this Open. They are not alone.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on artspander.com and realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

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http://www.sfexaminer.com/sports/Spander-Tiger-anxious-for-first-major-win-since-surgery-50814812.html
Copyright 2009 SF Newspaper Company
11:01AM

OpenGolf: Art Spander on The Open

By Art Spander
Special to OpenGolf.com/R & A Championships Limited

Forty years ago I was caught under the spell, hooked by the magic of an event so old but yet so current. It was 1968, at Carnoustie, the grayness and gloom, my first Open, and gloriously not my last.

Americans can be chauvinistic, can look across the Atlantic and wonder why the Brits take their beer cool rather than cold or why a broken machine can’t be fixed in hours instead of days, but we remain enthralled with both The Open and Wimbledon, the best of Britain.

Tennis on grass courts, so special; golf on linksland, so different. The Open — and now, led by the perception of Tiger Woods who began calling it that, like the locals — is as much circus as sport, a mid-summer party.

“Aye, laddie,’’ asked the man at pub. “You here for the golf?’’ The Golf. What a beautiful way to describe a competition which started in the middle of the 19th Century. The Golf. The Open.

We all know the stories of American pros coming to the Open, Sam Snead the first time at St. Andrews describing the course as turnip patch. Where were the sculptured fairways lined by trees? But eventually they understood the charm and frustration of links golf.

Walter Hagen would come back. Arnold Palmer would come back. Jack Nicklaus would come back. Tiger has come back.

Open galleries are knowledgeable and proud. They want players to be challenged, whether by a bunker or by the wind, but no less they want players to succeed. A great shot brings both excitement and an ovation generated from history.

Always there is a reference. The plaque to Arnie on what now is the 16th at Royal Birkdale. The photo of Gary Player against the wall at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Remember when Nicklaus hurled his putter in triumph at St. Andrews in 1970? As we go forward, time goes into reverse.

The game is international now, a world tour if you will, full of Brits and Aussies, Yankees and Swedes, South Africans and Japanese. They flit from continent to continent. But in July the best invariably are in the UK, at Hoylake or Birkdale or this year Turnberry.

Back home, back in the US of A, people will be up early — there’s a five-hour time change to New York, eight to California — and watching on television. Watching and wishing they could be here, walking through the tented village, hoisting a glass of lager and tramping along the dunes.

The Open has to be experienced as well as viewed, has to be put in context. “You going to the British Open, again?’’ a friend asked at the start of June. The question didn’t deserve an answer.

A few years back, another journalist, more envious than respectful, told me, “You’d swim to get to the British Open.’’ An exaggeration. But not much of one.

The Open is rain off the sea and a breeze in your face. The Open is a ball flying into the whin and grasses and fans pointing to where they thought it ought to be, but as was the case with Tiger the first shot in 2003 at Royal St. George’s, is not there at all.

The Open is a week of surprises, not all of them delightful. Back in 1970, at St. Andrews, the sun was shining and the sky blue. The warning was not to walk without an umbrella, but I ignored the advice. Drenched, I wandered back to the press tent. At the Open, there are lessons for us all.

Art Spander is a longtime sports and golf columnist from the San Francisco Bay Area, now with the San Francisco Examiner. He recently received the PGA of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award in journalism, and previously was a winner of the McCann Award, gaining a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has won six first-place awards in Golf Writers Association of America writing competition. He has written for the Daily Telegraph and (Glasgow) Sunday Herald, and is attending his 137th major championship.
 


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3:20PM

Tiger and elements at the start of British Open week

TURNBERRY, Scotland –- A light rain had stopped, leaving only gloom and silence. The Open is coming, and the stage must be set. This is a golf resort, Turnberry, not a beach resort. The elements must come into play.

There is a myth about golf in this country where the game was created. “Nae wind, nae rain, nae golf,’’ is the axiom. But here they’ll tell you that’s a slogan more Madison Avenue than Glasgow High Street. The folks would prefer sunshine. They don’t usually have it.

When we think of the British Open, we think not only of links courses, those bold, rolling venues once under the sea, but of difficult weather -- as if any weather could be more difficult than that of our own Open, three weeks past at Bethpage, where the rain never stopped.

The famous Duel in the Sun, between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus in 1977, was at Turnberry, on Scotland’s West Coast, along the Firth of Clyde, Watson winning after shooting 65-65 the last two days against Jack’s 65-66. There wasn’t a cashmere sweater within sight. Not many bogies to be seen, either.

But when in 1986 the Open returned to Turnberry, the weather the first day -- 25 mph winds, a steady downpour -- was particularly nasty. Only one player, Ian Woosnam, was as low as even par, or as the phrasing goes here, level par.

Turnberry is not a town but a Victorian hotel, constructed in 1906 above courses opened in 1901 and twice turned into Royal Air Force bases, for World War I and World War II. Even now, after the restoration, after three previous Opens, cement from the old airplane runways still is visible.

Also visible Sunday, in a manner of speaking, was Tiger Woods, who played a practice round on Turnberry’s Ailsa Course, which until two weeks ago had been closed for changes and, if you think harder is better, improvement.

It was Tiger’s introduction to Turnberry, where the men who won the three Opens here, Watson in ’77, Greg Norman in ’86 and Nick Price in ’94, all are living members of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Not that Tiger can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but he must have some magic. By the time he was into his back nine, the clouds rolled by and the sun appeared.

“We got the best of the weather today,’’ said Woods. “No wind. The course is in great shape.’’

Presumably so was Tiger, although he had arrived at Prestwick Airport, about 20 miles north, after an overnight flight, picked up a yardage  booklet in the pro shop -- as we might if we could afford the $375 greens fee -- went straight to the first tee, skipping the driving range, and fired away.

Peter Dawson, chairman of the Royal and Ancient, which runs the Open, caught up with Woods, first on foot, then after leaping into a golf cart, on wheels. Can’t let the prize entrant feel unwanted.

There is a small building, a halfway house, with a restroom between the ninth and 10th holes, but when Tiger tried the door he found it locked. A marshal quickly obtained a key. “My teeth were swimming in my head,’’ a grateful Tiger told the man.

That Woods never had played Turnberry until Sunday is of no particular consequence. Experience is advisory on links courses but hardly mandatory. Tiger never had seen Royal Liverpool until Open week in 2006. Of course he won. Tom Watson took his first shot at Carnoustie in 1975 the week of the tournament and won. And then there was the late Tony Lema of the Bay Area, San Leandro, in 1964.

Lema’s manager, the famed Fred Corcoran, told Tony to get in some practice rounds since he’d never seen a links course before. “Just let me tee it up,’’ was Lema’s response. “I don’t build courses, I play ’em.’’

He played historic St. Andrews better than Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, better than anyone, winning virtually sight unseen. When a British writer wondered of Tony, “How did you find the course?’’ his flip California answer was, “I just walked out of the clubhouse and there it was.’’

Whenever Tiger walks out of a clubhouse, he’s inevitably the favorite. Seven different bookmaking agencies in Britain, where betting is legal, all list Tiger as the choice, the odds varying slightly from 7-to-4 at Ladbroke’s to 9-to-4 at Paddypower. For what it’s worth, Sergio Garcia is next at 20-to-1.

Woods reportedly hit his tee shot into the rough on Turnberry’s second and never looked for the ball. The rough is long.

“They had a medal (stroke play event) for the members –- 150 starters -– and they left 480 balls on the course,’’ said Colin Montgomerie, who has a golf academy here.  “That’s three a player. Avoid the rough at all costs.’’

Easy to say but, as even Tiger learned, hard to do.
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